Ed Piskor COMICS CREATOR INTERVIEW: A deep dive Q&A with the "Red Room" writer/artist

Ed Piskor is a comics creator whose inspiration often emerges from the zeitgeist. After self-publishing Wizzywig, a work rooted in his own obsession with hacking and phone phreaking (yeah, I had to look up the latter myself), Piskor excelled into the stratosphere of the comics industry with his Eisner Award-winning Hip Hop Family Tree (Fantagraphics) and X-Men: Grand Design (Marvel). Now Piskor is flexing his auteurism with the new series Red Room: The Antisocial Network. I was lucky enough to ask Piskor some questions, and even luckier to get some answers I can share with you all. I hope you enjoy Ed’s insight.

2nd printing cover of Red Room #1 by Ed Piskor

POP: So you’ve spoken before on the inspiration behind Red Room. Stephen King’s Danse Macabre describes good horror as emerging from the cultural zeitgeist, an idea you extrapolated on in terms of the Dark Web. Are there other elements of our current zeitgeist that you’ve incorporated in these stories? Maybe some that you think some of us readers have missed?

EP: There are lots of little things sprinkled in. I'm fascinated by the things doctors and scientists have discovered about the effect of concussions and CTE in people, so that's a new piece that hasn't been explored much for horror purposes in comics. I read articles about women getting arrested for selling videos of them killing animals to perverts, so that's a thing. Bitcoin has a lot of horror possibilities. The story I'm currently working on has some really good stuff that's very current that hasn't made its way into pop culture yet, but I can't speak about that for fear of being scooped.

High technology has rendered lots of existing horror material as quaint and obsolete, so I'm using this comic to go the other way and see what kinds of scary stuff can be done with what we have at our disposal now.

POP: I’ll be honest here, Red Room #1 and #2 were my first ‘outlaw comics’ read and I am enraptured. That being said, what sorts of recommendations would you have for someone like me who isn’t just looking to dip a toe in? I’ve seen you recommend The Crow and Faust, but what are some titles you could pull from the back of your mind for me to pore over to get a feel of the genre?

EP: Dead World by Vince Locke, Dragon Chiang by Tim Truman and Tim Bradstreet, there are a handful or two of the Mirage TMNT comics that have the outlaw energy I speak of. Eric Talbot, specifically.

Jim Rugg Variant Cover

POP: There are a lot of things at play in Red Room. There’s some extrapolative Sci-Fi, Grind-house Horror, and Underground Comix vibes flying around in this whole anthology that play to a unique experience. How did these elements come together for you in the 5 years it took to get this title together? Were there specific genre elements you always wanted to include or was this process ever-evolving?

EP: It's all the culmination of just ignoring the outside world and making comics that are true to myself, things that I would want to read. It's pretty easy to stand out when the wider world of comics is trying to be as inoffensive as baby food.

POP: Speaking of Underground Comix, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the duotone approach you took to Red Room. The aesthetic of your work drew me in immediately. I know you wanted these characters to be “cosplay-able” with everyday means, but what did you want to convey with the duotone? To me it plays like a notebook left in some dark corner that’s just itching to show me something that isn’t meant to be seen. Am I on the mark or should I apologize?

EP: Horror art isn't its best when it's very academically correct and slick. The mechanical nature of that grey adds a bit of remove and dirties up the aesthetic in a pleasing way for this kind of story. The way I use it isn't the way Roy Crane used it on Buz Sawyer! Haha. Part of the outlaw vibe in obsession and over-rendering in line. Had to do my best to add those elements to the pages, yet I want to remain clear in the presentation also.

Yeah, definitely not the same use of duotone; Buz Sawyer by Roy Crane

POP: What was it like to be the auteur of this title? Giant creative teams can be suspicious at best in terms of how commercial a property chooses to be over being narratively unique. Was this something that played into your choice to run solo or was this a passion project that needed to be from your imagination only?

EP: I'm not much of a collaborator in general. Almost every time I worked with someone, with the exception of my Cartoonist Kayfabe homies, the work was never greater than the sum of the parts. I've gotten more critical success working solo and that's probably how things will remain. I agree with you also, in that most creative teams look competitive with one another rather than sharing some synergy to make the best comic possible.

POP: I don’t know much about Fantagraphics but I have heard phenomenal things. Typically the shelves are stocked in abundance with DC, Marvel, and Image. There are, of course, other publishers occupying sought after real estate in these local shops, but what sets Fantagraphics apart from the herd? How would you explain their impact or influence on the industry to someone who is oblivious to the publisher?

EP: What sets Fantagraphics apart from the herd is very simple. Gary Groth can separate the art from the artist, so I feel like I have a crew that has my back whenever the pitchfork and torch crowd come looking for me because they object to the content or whatever. Fantagraphics will publish Robert Crumb but will also publish people who highly criticize Crumb because he recognizes the quality of their craft and doesn't let personal biases or difference of opinion color his thoughts about their work. I can't say that about any other publishers.

POP: I know you were a part of the Marvel process with X-Men: Grand Design. Could you compare and contrast this process with your auteur approach to Red Room?

EP: For one, there's no baggage with Red Room. It's all from my own imagination rather than borrowing from existing substance. No editors, in terms of content, so the sky's the limit for the storytelling. Marvel left me to my own devices but I wanted to be true enough to the continuity of X-Men for my taste, but coming up with everything from whole cloth is such a rewarding experience and it's exactly what I was building toward with my earlier works. I needed to have some hits in the can that I could use to live on while making my own weird stuff.

POP: I know the Jim Shooter mandate has weight with you. It’s all about bringing people into the story whenever you can. Every comic could be someone’s first comic. With that in mind, why did you personally choose to go the self-contained but connective route? Did you have Shooter’s mandate in mind or is there something more there?

EP: That Jim Shooter maxim makes a lot of sense to me and just feels right. It seems very counterproductive and, frankly, an abuse of the format, to deliver people just a portion of a bigger story in the pamphlet format. Ya gotta at least give them the most satisfying episode of the bigger story as you can. Imagine reading an Incredible Hulk comic where we don't see the guy turn big and green? What disrespect to the reader!

Each issue of Red Room always provides initial footing for first time readers; Art & Prose by Ed Piskor

More specifically, I really like the way David Lapham doled out his issues of Stray Bullets for the first couple years, where they were all complete stories with different characters but there'd be overlap. Sin City comics, as whole books, worked that way too. It's a slick approach and gives the reader a lot to chew on.

POP: Piggybacking off of the previous question, is there a nice narrative reward near the conclusion for those that are following Red Room issue by issue? Each issue is, in and of itself, an experience that ends with the last page, but is there a bigger tapestry readers can’t see yet that is made all the better by following every thread? I guess what I’m asking is, is there a narrative endgame coming?

EP: Red Room is a story engine that could be limitless. There are some big events that will affect anyone who's involved in the subculture of Red Rooms though. You'll see what I mean in subsequent issues. Maybe the dark web isn't as anonymous as everyone thinks.

POP: Final barrage of quick-fire questions for you: Why should someone read Red Room?

EP: No hard-sell zone here. If you like hardcore comics then you need not look further.

POP: What does this title mean to you, personally?

EP: I thought this was going to be a really hard sell for anyone to check out, and people are showing up in droves far bigger than my Hip Hop comics. It's been really rewarding spiritually and beyond. It's a lot of fun making these tongue-in-cheek potboilers (to mix metaphors).

POP: If one creator of your choice was able to put out one more work, who would that creator be?

EP: Been a while since we had a fresh David Mazzucchelli comic.

POP: What’s your favorite title on the shelves right now?

EP: I'm so excited that they're finally gonna be publishing all of Fist of the Northstar here in the states in something more than a scanlation.

If you want to catch up with Piskor’s Red Room series (before #4 drops on September 15th), pick up issue 1 from Fantagraphic’s own website here. You may also order it directly from your LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP! Once you get all caught up, go read our very own reviews of this series starting with issue 1 on POP’s official website. Then start following Ed Piskor (alongside Jim Rugg) on their Youtube channel, Cartoonist Kayfabe!

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